With this year’s NFL draft now less than a month away, NFL franchises are shifting their primary focus towards building a quality rookie draft class to fill out their rosters ahead of the 2023 NFL season. Although the majority of the big splash signings have already happened this free agency cycle, there are still plenty of quality players available that would be welcomed additions to their next team.
The Dallas Cowboys have been uncharacteristically busy acquiring new talent to the roster while also retaining talent who were on the roster in 2022. This mix of adding new players, along with retaining talented players has put the the entire league on notice to watch out for the Cowboys in 2023. On paper, this offseason has been quite a successful one, and ranks among the league’s best. However, the final verdict will not be known until the conclusion of this upcoming season. Regardless of what happens, the franchise seemingly is putting in quality work to make a run towards that ever elusive Lombardi Trophy.
Work certainly has been put in by the front office, but the work is never done when it comes to building Super Bowl contenders year in and year out. Although Dallas has re-signed a key member to last year’s linebacking corps by locking up Leighton Vander Esch for the next two seasons, there is still a need at the position as Micah Parsons has seemingly transitioned over to more of a pass rushing role along the defensive line.
Aside from the known commodities in Vander Esch and Parsons, there isn’t much experience amongst the linebackers currently rostered. Malik Jefferson and Devante Bond are the most experienced linebackers behind Vander Esch and Parsons, but each did not appear in any games last season. The remaining trio of Damone Clark, Jabril Cox, and Devin Harper all have limited professional experience, with Clark showing the most in playing time last season. The youth and potential are there from this group as a whole, but they are still missing another proven veteran presence that would also allow Micah Parsons to focus on doing what he does best and that is rushing the passer.
Let’s take a look at three veteran linebackers who would instantly upgrade this group and solidify a major need even before the draft begins.
Coming into the league as a highly-touted player during the 2016 NFL draft, Myles Jack would fall to the second round because of concerns about his surgically repaired knee. Since then, he has been a pretty durable player that has played in at least 11 games per year in seven career seasons thus far. During the last three seasons alone, Jack has surpassed the 100 total tackle mark each time. This offseason, just like last year, he finds himself as a free agent but due to his quality of play throughout his career, he should find another team. Jack is a sound tackler, and plays the pass game at a quality level as well. At just 27 years old, he has plenty of experience and still has plenty of tread left on the tires to be a nice addition to the Cowboys.
Just like Jack, Zach Cunningham was also a second-round pick but in the 2017 NFL Draft. For the first five of his six seasons in the league, Cunningham did not have less than 90 tackles in a season. His best season to date was in 2020 where he led the NFL in total tackles with 164 of them. He would follow up in 2021 with another quality season as he would tally a total of 93 tackles split between two franchises, the Houston Texans and the Tennessee Titans. Since entering the league. he has been a force on run defense. Throughout his career, he showed tremendous ability to shed blocks in order to tackle the ball carrier. He is also plays well enough in coverage to not be a liability in that area. Unfortunately for him, the 2022 season was a rough one as his play took a major hit. The dip in performance seems to be more injury related than anything else. He was recently released by the Titans due to an elbow injury but assuming he bounces back to form, then a nice one-year prove-it deal would be an interesting scenario for the Cowboys to entertain.
Last, but not least, is where Rashaan Evans enters the conversation. Unlike the aforementioned Jack and Cunningham, Evans was a first-round pick just five years ago in 2018. In three of his five career seasons in the NFL, Evans has at least 96 tackles. He was originally drafted by the Tennessee Titans but lasted just four seasons with them as his fifth-year option was not picked up. Evans unfortunately didn’t live up the lofty expectations of being a first-round pick. This had a lot to with his play, given that he was seen as a liability in coverage and would be limited to playing only on early downs. However, former Titans offensive coordinator and current Atlanta Falcons head coach saw enough of Evans during their time in Nashville together to give him a shot in the next chapter of his NFL career. During the 2022 season with the Falcons, he started to look like the first-round talent that many had thought he was coming out of the University of Alabama just a few years ago. He would tally 159 total tackles which put him tied for seventh in the NFL in that department. Another area of his game that seemed to have improved was in the passing game where he played screens and short yardage throws much better then in years past. This improvement, along with his tremendous tackling ability, makes him an intriguing player that is currently on the free agent market. At just 27 it seems like his best years are right now and if the price is right, the Cowboys front office such do their due-diligence and try to potentially add him to the roster.